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Book Review: Karakoram by Steve Swenson

Exhausted mentally and physically, Steve Swenson and his two partners, are greeted on the Choktoi Glacier by Rasool and Ali, their longstanding expedition managers and guides.

The climbers have completed the first alpine style traverse of the Latok peaks, prominent and unforgiving granite peaks in the Karokoram, the range that marks the western edge of the Greater Himalaya and that contains five of the world’s fourteen 8,000-metre peaks.

They lay out a picnic on the great glacier and brew the finest cup of coffee. The immensity of the landscape and the warmth of the companionship stay with Swenson long after the flight home to Seattle.

Karakoram is an account of twenty seasons across four decades spent among the peoples and conflicts in this range, divided between Pakistan and India following the end of the British Raj. A succession of notable first ascents and first alpine style ascents forms the backbone of the narrative.

This is the high altitude alpine climbing game as it has been played in the past few decades with its narrow margins for error, small budgets, geopolitics, and, more recently, terrorism. All of these factors form a backdrop to the possibilities for unparalleled adventure to be summoned from these lands.

As recently as 2012, Swenson and his partners made the first ascent of Sasser Kangri II (7,518m), a demanding mountain for which they were awarded the Piolet d’Or. This was followed by two further significant first ascents in 2015 with younger partners, as the author describes “passing the torch.”

Karakoram by Steve Swenson

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